As we announced in late September 2014, we were heading to the San Francisco Bay Area for personal and business travel. One of the first things that came to mind was that we would be able to pick up some interesting beers to BrewView that are not available in our local Redding, California market. We were scheduled to spend a day in Sonoma, California for business and wanted to find a good place to have a beer while in town. We remembered that there was an excellent place that had a wide variety of beers available to enjoy, many of them Belgians. Our choice was the HOPMONK TAVERN. Below is our review of our visit.
DEAN BIERSCH OF GORDON BIERSCH FAME
Back in 1988, we read a story in Celebrator Beer Magazine about an authentic German brewpub opening in Palo Alto, California called Gordon Biersch. The article described the background and work history of professional brewer Dan Gordon and his business partner, restaurateur Dean Biersch. It opened up to much fanfare; we frequented the original Emerson Street location several times, and were amazed at the quality of the beer. The Palo Alto location still operates today.
In 1990, I discovered that Gordon Biersch was opening up their second location in San Jose, California and were hiring! I immediately applied for a position that I was easily qualified for- greeter / host. Once I got my foot in the door, I worked my way to becoming the brewer’s helper on a few occasions. But that’s another story for another time. All the newly hired staff were called in to help clean, set up new tables, etc., in preparation for its grand opening. During a work break, I struck up a casual conversation with Dean Biersch. I asked about his work background, and he was kind enough to share some details. I do remember asking him if he liked Belgian beer, and his reply was, “I like some of them, but those Lambics are odd beers… the Belgians brew with some of the most outrageous materials!” Very true.
My stay at Gordon Biersch was short. Although the quality of the German-style beer and food was top notch, I longed for working in an environment that focused on Belgian beer. As many know, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant chain has experienced massive success over the years with locations all over the United States and internationally. Dean opened up his last GB location during the 1999-2000 period when Dan Gordon and Dean sold their interest in the Gordon Biersch company.
2008- DEAN BIERSCH RE-ENTERS THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS
We read an online article that Dean Biersch was opening up a new pub in Sebastapol, California called the HOPMONK TAVERN in the old Sebastapol Brewing location. Anything that Dean Biersch puts his hands on, you know will enjoy great success. The focus of his new Hopmonk Tavern was not to emulate the poshness of his former Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants. This location was going to be more homey, with a country pub feel to it. The Sebastapol location opened up on April 17, 2008.
2010- HOPMONK SONOMA BEGINS BREAKING GROUND
The location for Dean’s second Hopmonk location was a former farmhouse built in 1888 at 691 Broadway. Dean, being a Sonoma resident since 2000, found the location to fit his vision. He hired very talented designers and architects, and went to work on his next creation.
The result was (and is) a convivial, down to earth establishment that is a great place to relax and enjoy a Belgian beer (or two) with great food.
There is quite an interesting history behind the Sonoma location- (read the article here)
We think its quite awesome that a beer-centric establishment would enjoy the success it has, being located in one of the world’s great wine regions.
The nearby Novato, California location opened up shortly after, enjoying the same success as its two nearby predecessors.
OUR VISIT TO HOPMONK SONOMA
Once my wife and I established ourselves in our nearby hotel, we made easy reservations for dinner through the Open Table.com platform via Hopmonk Sonoma’s reservation weblink. The neighborhood that the tavern is situated in has a historical feel to it. As my wife and I took the short walk from our hotel, we saw many older, well-manicured homes amongst dense tree-lined streets. There is almost a Norman Rockwell-esque feel to it. We even spotted a classic early 20th century fire truck showcased in the Sonoma City Fire Station just down the street! There are convenient grocery stores, (Whole Foods and others) and specialty shops all along the way. The early evening weather for our stroll was calm and mild, perfect for what we were going to walk up to.
As we walked up Andrieux Street, we were first impressed with the greenery and clean landscaping the Hopmonk displayed from the outside. The aroma emitting from the tavern’s kitchen simply made our mouths water. I told my wife- “I have to get pictures of this place!”
The beer garden is very inviting and relaxing. You can tell that Dean utilized his vast number of years of restaurant experience to create an environment that welcomes you and invites you in. Mood and ambiance are so crucial in creating a wonderful first-time experience.
Making our entrance, I immediately asked the hostess if I could take more pictures of the place for an upcoming review for Belgian Beer Journal.com. She assured me that my question would be brought to the manager-on-duty’s attention.
Our hostess asked if we wanted to have an inside or outside table to enjoy our meal at. I noticed that the Patriots-Chiefs game was on the TV at the bar. And since the 49ers beat the Eagles the day before, there was no reason for me to want to sit inside. Being immediately impressed by the surroundings of the beer garden, (and the weather being perfect) we requested to enjoy our meal outside.
As we sat down to our table, we were greeted by our server Sierra, in the perfect amount of time. Her timing and approach reminded me when Dean spoke to all of his staff (myself incuded) at Gordon Biersch San Jose 24 years ago. He spoke on the importance of a server’s timing when approaching a table- not too soon, and don’t make them wait too long!
Friendly and conversational, Sierra asked us if we wanted to start our evening with something to drink. We advised her that we needed a few minutes to look over the beer and wine menu first. When I looked on Hopmonk’s beer menu on their website, I noticed that there were a small handful of Belgian and Belgian-Style beers on tap, and a bit more in bottle. Such is not the case when visiting in person! The Belgians on tap were a few more, but the availability of Belgians in bottles was much more than the beer menu on the website suggests!
Sierra gave us the perfect amount of time to make our drink choice (her attentiveness was spot on). When she returned, I ordered a St. Feuillien Triple, and my wife went with a glass of Merlot from Gundlach Bundschu Winery- a local Sonoma vineyard since the 1860’s.
“QUICK” BREWVIEW OF ST. FEUILLIEN TRIPLE
Style Category: Abbey Triple
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
8.5% ABV, Was given a open-mouthed Trappist goblet to enjoy it in by Sierra (again, her thoughtfulness)! It poured an easy 2-finger white colored creamy, dense head. (This picture was taken about 8 minutes after pouring). It is a medium golden color, with a bit of haziness from the bottle conditioning. The meniscus is medium to slow rising. And of course, we NEVER shy away from pouring the yeast from the bottle into the glass!
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Classic example of attention to detail- rich, fruity aromas of peach, apricot, and that bubblegum ester that we soooo enjoy. There is a beautiful fresh yeast aroma, mixed with floral hops in the background.
Wonderful balance of malt sweetness and yeast produced phenols. Tastes of fresh baked bread, mixed with gentle fruitiness and vanilla extract. The hop dryness and spice level is perfect. Think of a rich peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream and herbs. Outstanding.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
The effervescence of the beer hits the entire mouth with its creaminess. The finish is aged fruit, fresh yeast, and gentle hop dryness. The drinkability is pleasant.
One of the most cherished beers in Belgium itself, this is a well established, award winning world classic. A must have, seek this one out for sure. And when I saw it on Hopmonk’s beer menu for only $13.00 for a 750ML bottle, the choice was a no-brainer!
My wife and I decided to start off with their meat and cheese platter as our appetizer. The carefully selected blue veined, raw milk, and brie cheeses were rich, sumptuous, and creamy. They went perfect with the crostini, dry cured salami, prosciutto, and sopressata. We were both in the mood for a good burger; their Hopmonk burger was in order.
The manager on duty (sorry, I did not get his name!) came to inform me that he was giving me permission to take additional photos of the place. He initiated a friendly conversation about Belgian beer. He spoke about the time that Hopmonk Sonoma offered Tripel Karmeliet, and how the entire staff loved it! I agreed wholeheartedly with his assessment. I advised him that the pictures I would be taking would be appearing in an upcoming PLACES REVIEW on our website, and thanked him for his kind permission to capture more images from my camera:
Throughout the time we enjoyed our Hopmonk burgers (which were cooked to medium-well perfection), Sierra was perfectly attentive to our needs- not too intrusive, yet made us feel important. I am a picky eater with special food requests, none of which fazed our gracious server.
As our evening was winding down to a close, Sierra asked if there was anything else we needed. I decided to enjoy a St. Bernardus Abt 12 as my post-meal beer, (BrewView coming in the future) and my wife enjoyed a nice Fonseca Bin 27 Port. My wife and I enjoyed a much needed dinner date at a fantastic dining establishment served by truly attentive and thoughtful staff. All masterminded by a superb restauranteur, Dean Biersch.
OUR REVIEW OF HOPMONK TAVERN- SONOMA, CA
$3.75 – $44.00
10/10- don’t go by what’s on the website beer menu, there’s more Belgians available!
For the quality of the food as a comparison to the pricing, we are giving it a 10/10. So worth every penny!
Our HIGHEST praises go out to Dean Biersch and his entire staff at Hopmonk Sonoma! We were welcomed warmly, treated with courtesy, professionalism, and respect. No detail was overlooked; from the order timing, the glass my Tripel was served in, meal wait times, presentation, all aspects of our experience were top shelf. Sierra received a nice tip for her outstanding VIP service… Thank you!!
HOPMONK TAVERN- SONOMA
Sonoma, CA 95476 (MAP)